MANHASSET, NY (PIX11) — Jacqueline Franchetti remembered her daughter Kyra Monday, on what should have been the child’s eighth birthday, by displaying hundreds of pinwheels on the lawn of Mary Jane Davis Green in Manhasset.
“Pinwheels are the symbol of National Child Abuse Prevention Month,” Franchetti told PIX11 News, as the wind sent hundreds of pinwheels spinning in the park. “One of the beautiful things about putting pinwheels behind us is: They become conversation starters.”
Kyra was born on April 4, 2014 and she was known for her “fierce independence” and love of the park slides, her mother said. But another date in July 2016 will haunt Kyra’s mom forever.
“Her father took her on a court-ordered visit to his Virginia home, shot her in the back not once but twice, and then threw gasoline all over the floor and set the house on fire, killing himself,” she said.
Franchetti once told PIX11 News “it hurt to breathe” after Kyra died, but she eventually turned her profound pain into purpose. She founded an organization called Kyra’s Champions, which works to change multiple laws in the Family Court system.
More than 20 children in New York State alone have been killed by a parent in the last six years during custody disputes. Franchetti also noted a report that came out of Albany in 2020, which found 725 other children died under mysterious circumstances in the last decade — with the records pertaining to social service involvement sealed.
“Those case files have been hidden,” Franchetti said.
Franchetti has focused in recent years on pushing six bills in the New York State Legislature that would seriously rethink the way forensic evaluators and judges in Family Court view child custody and visitation decisions. One of the bills named for Kyra would make a child’s safety a top priority in custody disputes, instead of prevailing concerns about parental alienation.
“Right now, parents’ rights supersede children’s rights,” Franchetti maintained.
The state Senate Judiciary Committee recently unanimously approved Kyra’s bill to move to the full Senate.
Franchitti has made it her mission to have young people work with Kyra’s Champions. One of them is Shayna Blumenfeld, a freshman at Schreiber High School in Port Washington, who is the youth ambassador for Kyra’s Champions.
Blumenfeld recruited other students and friends to install hundreds of pinwheels in Port Washington, where Kyra once lived with her mom, and did the same in Manhasset, Franchetti’s hometown.
“I’m really fortunate to live in a house that’s so loving,” Blumenfeld said.
Her friend, Tea’ Cotronis, said she was moved when she heard Franchetti speak.
“I was so shocked to see the abuse around Long Island and in New York City,” Cotronis said. “I am very privileged to live in a safe home and in a great town. To be able to put in the pinwheels myself and to do action with Jacqueline is amazing.”
Franchetti has forged bonds with other local mothers who, like her, lost children during custody disputes. One of them is Cherone Coleman, who watched her daughter, Autumn, on FaceTime as the 3-year old’s father set the car on fire.
The tragedies fade from the headlines but they’re seared into the souls of parents living with the heartbreak.
Kyra’s mom was blessed with another little girl born three and a half years ago, yet she’s working passionately to make sure Kyra’s name is never forgotten.
“When she walked into a room, it would light up,” Franchetti said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the year Kyra died.